The Mona Lisa Veil

“The Mona Lisa Veil” by Renzo Manetti (Florence, Polistampa, 2009) is based on an analysis of events that prove that the most famous painting in history is not a portrait of Francesco Del Giocondo’s wife Lisa after all, but a portrait painted by Leonardo later in life, similar in style and concept to the words of the painter’s Roman period and certainly later than 1510.
It is probably contemporary with a second Gioconda (the Mona Lisa’s other name), although this time a semi-nude version, that Leonardo painted at about the same time as Raphael, who was very much under the older master’s influence, was painting two very similar female figures:  one wearing a veil (La Velata or The Woman With the Veil), the other also semi-nude (La Fornarina or The Baker’s Daughter).  The same relationship appears to exist between these two paintings as the relationship that exists between the Gioconda and the so-called Nude Gioconda.  The author interprets the relationship between the two paintings in the light of the symbolism of the two Venuses, the “Venus Coelestis” or sacred Venus, and the “Venus Vulgaris” or profane Venus, who symbolise the two sides of the soul in the Neoplatonic tradition.  This duality also emerges in Dante’s thought, concealed beneath the veil of allegory:  Beatrice reprents the image of the soul’s intellective energy while Matelda, who precedes Beatrice’s appearance in the Divine Comedy, represents its procreative energy.  The Renaissance found Dante’s work intriguing, and it was very well aware of the allegories and of the secret knowledge it concealed.
The author believes that the doctrine of the soul as expounded by Dante in his Convivio is reflected in the Gioconda.  The Gioconda was an allegorical subject just like Dante’s Beatrice; It was an icon or talisman of the intellective soul and the eternal Sophia.  In other words, it was part and parcel of a tradition of wisdom of gnostic origin.
The author goes on to explore a fascinating theory developed by Lillian Schwartz, who argued that Leonardo idealised his own features in the portrait.  He proves that this hypothesis is perfectly compatible with the exoteric doctrine espoused both by Dante himself and by the addressees of the verses in his Vita Nuova, namely the fedeli d’amore who used to call each other donne or women in accordance with an ancient custom of the Valentinian gnostics.  Yet the author recognises that Lillian’s theory, while plausible and thought-provoking, cannot be positively proven because the fact that the Gioconda’s features can be superimposed on those in the self-portrait of Leonardo probably has more to do with the painter’s adoption of a proportional rule, shared also by other portraits.
While seeking confirmation of Lillian’s theory, however, the computer showed how Leonardo’s esoteric paintings, first and foremost the Gioconda, conceal an invisible geometry whose symbolism once again harks back to the mysteries of Sophia.  The Gioconda, in particular, appears to be symbolically tied to the Last Supper and to another painting that the master always kept with him, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne.  This painting conceals the mystery of the two gnostic Sophias, which were also images of the soul’s dual nature just like the two Platonic Venuses.  The hidden geometry allows us to identify a strong gnostic and esoteric component also in the Virgin of the Rocks.
The author concludes that there is indisputable evidence of Gnosis in Leonardo’s work, which is permeated with the Neoplatonic and Hermetic doctrines of Marsilio Ficino and of Pico della Mirandola.
Yet the author’s last, not to say his most surprising, conclusion concerns a mysterious remark that Leonardo jotted down in his studies on the soul at about the time he was painting the Gioconda:  “Now leave the letters crowned, because they are supreme truth”.  The reference to crowned letters shows that Leonardo, like Pico, was dabbling in the parlous world of the Qabalah in search of the root of life and the secret behind the soul’s infusion into matter.
So in actual fact, the author is not really interested in whether the Gioconda is a portrait of Lisa Gherardini or not.  The hidden face identified by x-ray under the layers of paint may be that of Francesco Del Giocondo’s wife, whose portrait extant documents show to have never been anything but a head without a body or a background.  The woman whom Leonardo painted over it some years later in compliance with a request from philosopher and alchemist Giuliano de’ Medici, on the other hand, is something completely different:  she is a mysterious and enigmatic Lady, the icon of a supernatural reality that transcends matter and partakes only of the Spirit.  The Gioconda’s smile, just like the smiles of Dante’s Beatrice and of Petrarch’s Laura, conceals the unfathomable mystery of the eternal soul and the secret of life.
The author concludes that we cannot know whether Leonardo ever did discover the Qabbalistic key to the soul’s infusion into matter, but the intriguing allure emanating from the Gioconda’s intense gaze and enigmatic smile has prompted many people to believe that the painting almost possesses a life of its own.  Like an angel, she appears to be the guardian of the door to eternity, set solemnly and hieratically against a timeless backdrop, a kind of middle world between heaven and earth where, as Jaspers sensed, the body becomes spiritual and the spirit materialises.  When we contemplate her, our soul too is immersed in the deep magic of a heavenly Woman, come down to earth from heaven “to show forth a miracle”.

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